Ryan Braun, the 2011 MVP and Milwaukee Brewers star outfielder, won his appeal, which will mean he avoids a 50-game suspension. Earlier in the season, on October 1, Braun had tested positive for increased levels of synthetic testosterone, meaning the excessive testosterone found had not been produced by Braun’s body.
Braun has maintained, over the past four months, that he is innocent and that the "false-positive" was a breakdown in the collection process. According to sources, Braun’s sample was collected on October 1 but was not shipped to the lab for testing until October 3. Protocol dictates that the sample must be shipped the day of; however, the sample was not because the FedEx office had already closed. So the collection agent kept Braun’s sample, sealed three different times, in his house in a cool place till it could be shipped. The lab confirmed that the sample arrived, all seals intact, and was then tested. The lab also said the delay in shipping would have no effect on Braun’s sample.
Nonetheless, Braun was found innocent as his lawyers argued that the failure in the collection system caused the incorrect lab results.
Let me be clear and say that I have no inside knowledge of the situation and I only know what I read through the media. It is through this information reported, from both views on the issue, and an analysis of the numbers, that my search for the truth follows.
If we look at one simple sabermetric statistic, PX, which is a complex math formula designed to show a hitter’s power, it becomes clear why some in the baseball world may still feel Braun was guilty. From 2007 through 2010, Braun’s PX numbers were (respectively): 173, 152, 117 and 112. A number above 100 is good, and a number above 120 is considered elite. Furthermore, here are the number of home runs Braun hit from 2007 to 2010 (respectively): 43, 37, 32, 25.
But the decline in power didn’t go for nothing; Braun swapped power for contact. His contact rate for these years, again, respectively, were: 79 percent, 79 percent, 81 percent, 83 percent.
So, clearly, Braun was making a choice almost all major league hitters have to make: contact or power. It is very rare that a hitter can have a high contact rate to go along with massive power. If they do, we refer to them as superstars (see Albert Pujols, Miguel Cabrera and Robinson Cano).
Looking at the numbers further, there is a disparity between Braun’s numbers in the first half of the 2011 season and the second half. Braun had been tested a few times during the 2011 season, but it wasn’t until the second half of the season that he tested positive. So if he was using, we should see a discrepancy between the first- and second-half numbers, right? Let’s look.
From the first to the second half of 2011, Braun’s batting average jumped over .020 (from .321 to .345) even though his plate discipline and on-base percentage fell. In fact, his plate discipline, measured in a sabermetric state known as eye, fell from .78 to .44; the league average is .45. Accordingly, Braun’s walk rate fell from 12 percent to seven percent, with the league average being eight percent.
Were pitchers just no longer fearing him and had simply decided to pitch to him? Perhaps, but doubtful. So, what does all this suggest? It shows that although Braun was getting more hits, his discipline to swing at only good pitches fell dramatically from a very good level to the league average, and so he was walking less. Again, his plate discipline was at the league average—not something you would expect to see from someone who hit .345.
Although there are a number of theories as to why this would happen, one would be that, because of the added power from the extra testosterone, Braun was able to hit balls harder than he otherwise would have. This would have changed a weak-hit ball to a hard-hit ball.
This idea that Braun was hitting the baseball harder in the second half of the season is confirmed when looking at Braun’s PX number, which rose from 155 to 188 from the first to second half. This rise in power also aided Braun in hitting one more home run in the second half than the first. But so what, right? It’s only one more home run, that’s not a lot. Well it might just be if you compare to what the other "power hitters" were doing.
Typically, an increase in home runs between the first and second half of a season is not seen; instead, a slight decline is normally observed. This is because as the season gets deeper, players are more banged up and become more tired. For example, look at Matt Kemp (22 HR in the first half, 17 in the second half), Prince Fielder (21 HR in the first half, 17 in the second half) or Jose Bautista (24 HR in the first half, 19 in the second half). Although there are exceptions to this, the standard is that a player who plays the entire year will hit fewer home runs in the second half than the first half of the season.
So is one more home run really that big of a deal? Well, from the three power hitters above, they had an average of just above 4.5 fewer home runs in the second half. Thus, Braun actually hit 5.5 more home runs in the second half than the first half. That’s a lot. Wouldn’t you consider a hitter differently if he hit 25 home runs in a year verses 30?
An increase in testosterone would not only give Braun added power, especially when his body became tired from the long season, but it would also help him recover faster from being banged up.
As I said, I do not know the truth. No one besides Braun can be 100 percent certain of whether he actually used PEDs or not. What I can say, however, is that the numbers do suggest there is something to be skeptical about. While this alone, by no means, implicates Braun was cheating, it does raise an eyebrow and leaves us all wondering.
This article was originally written for and posted on www.baseballchatter.net
To read more by Steve Simon, visit his profile page on B/R or his personal website: www.baseballchatter.net